Has Geoengineering’s Moment Finally Arrived?

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Oct. 4 2011 11:08 AM

Has Geoengineering’s Moment Finally Arrived?

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Photo by Spencer Weiner/Getty Images

We’re not quite ready to hack the atmosphere. But a real conversation about geoengineering may be on the horizon. The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Task Force on Climate Remediation Research has released a report (PDF) that strongly urges the U.S. government to embark on serious study and thought about using geoengineering to combat global warming. “The task force believes the federal government should embark on a focused and systematic program of research into climate remediation,” says the report. The task force recommends that the effort be directed by the White House Office on Science and Technology Policy, with the Office of Management and Budget, beginning with funding for fiscal year 2013. One semantic note: Rather than use the term “geoengineering,” which it deems “broad and imprecise,” the task force prefers “climate remediation.”

The report is cautious and repeatedly emphasizes that this is an attempt to start a genuine dialogue (something Jeff Goodell also argued for last year in Slate), rather than a support statement for geoengineering as a climate-change fix. Says the New York Times, “In interviews, panelists said again and again that the continuing focus of policy makers and experts should be on reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. But several acknowledged that significant action remained a political nonstarter.”  

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Over on the Atlantic, Rebecca J. Rosen poses another question about geoengineering: What if it works? By its very nature, geoengineering would have uneven effects around the globe; some countries could unleash climate-remediation technology without consideration for how it would influence other nations. “[W[e have to wrestle with the possibility that the ability to control the weather is a power so massive that our international political system could not cope with it,” Rosen writes.

Read more on the New York Times and the Atlantic.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies.